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The Ward Melville baseball team let its bats do the talking in a League I matchup against the Central Islip Musketeers where the Patriots cruised to a 12-2 victory April 15.

The Patriots scored two runs in the opening inning, four in the second and two more in the third before plating four more in the fourth to put the game away.

Third baseman Brady Doran was 2-2 at the plate with a pair of doubles and scored three times. Second baseman Matt Maurer was 2-4 and batted in four. Pitcher Chris Vivenzio got the win fanning 10 batters, allowing one hit.

The win, the first of a three-game series against the Musketeers, put the Patriots as of April 15 at 3-1 in the division and 5-1 overall for second place behind Patchogue-Medford. On April 16 the Patriots won 11-0 against Central Islip.

A photo of Jacob Donaldson from his baseball days. Photo from Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

Jacob Donaldson died this past weekend, leaving an incredibly rich legacy filled with public service and family memories. 

A Huntington Station resident, Donaldson, 90, served as a staff sergeant in the Army during the Korean War, and later as a fireman for the New York City Fire Department. He left his mark in other significant areas as well, including on the baseball diamond, getting signed by the Boston Red Sox organization straight out of high school at age 16 and raising nine children in Huntington with his wife Grace.

Known by most as Jake, Donaldson was born Monday, October 1, 1928 on a crisp, fall Brooklyn day. His parents, George and Helen, raised him and his younger brother George in the borough until Donaldson turned 16 and left Newtown High School in his hometown and was signed as an outfielder to the Milford Red Sox, a Boston Red Sox minor league affiliate which played in Delaware. 

In Donaldson’s first season in 1946 he hit .316 with 14 home runs in 116 games. For the next seven years he played for six other minor league teams, including several seasons with the Albany Senators. During his time on the ball field Donaldson rubbed shoulders with many prolific baseball players, including one hall of famer. 

Left fielder and Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee Ted Williams had to borrow Donaldson’s glove once, after someone broke into the locker room and stole Williams’. Donaldson faced off against pitcher Don Newcombe when he was still in the minor leagues. 

After Newcombe struck Donaldson with one of his pitches, Donaldson told him to meet in the tunnel after the game. When they did, Newcombe said the only reason he hit him was because he was unable to get him out and asked to take the outfielder out for a beer, according to Donaldson.

While Donaldson was excelling on the baseball diamond, he could have fielded his own team at home. He and Grace first welcomed son Jim in 1954, followed by Bob, Kathy, Terry, Patty, Mary, Eileen, John and Joe completing the family of 11 in 1967. The family lived in Huntington Station where the children attended school in both the South Huntington district and Holy Family. 

Donaldson’s baseball career was interrupted after playing 113 games in 1950. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, departing in October 1950. He eventually rose to the rank of staff sergeant.

In 1955, the father of nine joined the FDNY as a firefighter. He worked as a motor pump operator and chief’s driver in his nearly 30-year career with the department, mostly working at Engine 3 in Chelsea. He was recognized for his bravery on multiple occasions by the fire department and once appeared on the cover of the New York Daily News on Nov. 23, 1961 following an incident in which a five-alarm blaze did damage to a building in Times Square. On the cover, he is pictured emerging from the building after battling a fire that claimed the lives of two fellow firefighters.

Even though his baseball career came to an end, Donaldson’s days on the field were not over. His daughter Terry said one of her favorite memories was attending an Albany Senators Old Timers Nostalgia reunion game at Hawkins Stadium in the summer of 1985. 

“It was so nice to see the old timers honored and it made my dad’s baseball days come to life for me!” she said. 

When his wife Grace suffered from a stroke in 1997, she was confined to a wheelchair and could no longer use one of her arms. Donaldson ensured his wife was taken care of and stayed right by her side until she died in 2017.

Donaldson was the proud grandfather to 11, and great grandfather to six. He loved spending time with his grandkids, whether it was sharing the sport he loved with them and teaching them how to throw a ball, or playing in the family’s beloved backyard and inground pool. Andrew Mayrick, one of Donaldson’s grandsons, said when he went to the local pub that his grandpa had frequented earlier this week, several people approached him to talk about how much they enjoyed getting to know his grandfather.

“There were a ton of people I had never met who were all upset, and the owner John said, ‘Jake was like a grandfather to everyone,’” Mayrick said. “He loved everyone he met and lived a life worth talking about, so much that strangers would just sit down and love listening to him.” 

Donaldson will be remembered by many as a larger than life personality, a friend to all who knew him, and someone who truly got the most out of life.

“Grandpa Jake had his own special language — a language of love reserved only for our family,” said granddaughter Mary Grace Donaldson. “He let us know ‘what a crew’ we were and had a number of other one-liners that will live on for years to come.”

Visitation will be held at M.A. Connell Funeral Home, 934 New York Ave., Huntington Station on Thursday, March 21 from 7 to 9 p.m. and Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral service will be held Friday evening at the funeral home. Interment will be at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.

We had such a wonderful relationship. I wondered whether this was it. Could this be the one that I remember years from now, that I think about when I’m feeling down, or that I go back to when I hear the phrase “the good old days”?

It was better than good for a while. You were incredible and so supremely satisfying. There was electricity, energy and a belief that this connection was something extraordinary. It gave me so much to look forward to, day in and day out, because I knew you’d be there for me.

I was dealing with a lot this summer. My family moved to North Carolina. I lost the close proximity to the friends, neighbors and nearby family I’d taken for granted for all these years.

It was harder to see you at first. But that didn’t stop the connection, from allowing me to enjoy the promising magic ride. Maybe modern technology minimized the distance, maybe it was just some perceived link, but I believed in you, in us, from so far away.

My wife has become accustomed to the annual search for this kind of closeness with you. She’s extraordinarily supportive of my emotional well-being. She knows that I need you, even if you don’t always seem to need me. She appreciates that I don’t need to try to defeat this kind of addiction.

She knows that I had a connection with you long before she came along and she doesn’t try to get in the way of that. She hasn’t tried to change me or turn my attention to other passions. She also knows that, when all is right between you and me, she and I have a better relationship because I’m a better-adjusted person who believes anything is possible.

It was such a whirlwind this time. Even when you seemed on the precipice of disappointing, you found a way to come through. You put a smile on my face as I went to bed, knowing that you’d done it again and that the sky really was the limit.

Of course, I recognized that it would never be so spectacular for all these months. I knew there’d be some nights when I might feel like pulling away, when I might think about dedicating my time, attention and passion elsewhere. I didn’t disconnect because I wanted it to work out. I pushed the warning signs away, even if I started to feel as if the separation and the potential through the middle of the summer fell short of my hopes.

Ultimately, as you know all too well, people remember the biggest moments. When these monumental days arrived, you seemed ready.

Initially, you didn’t disappoint. But, then, something happened. It was as if the nagging concerns I had through the summer came back to haunt us. You hadn’t changed at all: It’s just that I saw the weaknesses, the deficiencies and the problems that limited you.

You fought bravely to hold on, but it just wasn’t meant to be. The Red Sox and their fans, as it turns out, will continue to move forward, driven by the belief that those 108 wins will propel them all the way to the World Series.

For me, I can only look back and smile, wondering about what could have been after that spectacular start and hope that, maybe next year, the Yankees and their dedicated fans from near and far will bask in the progression from summer success to the fall classic.

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Smithtown resident Aiden Eddelson, 9, in the booth with SportsNet New York’s broadcasters during the bottom of the third inning. Photo from SportsNet New York

If you asked Smithtown fourth-grader Aidan Eddelson about the New York Mets, he could tell you the batting average of most players on the team. He could tell you where most pitchers like to pitch to outfielder Brandon Nimmo and can tell you which player thinks he’s the best dancer.

“[Shortstop Amed] Rosario’s from the Dominican Republic, he bats right, and he also thinks he’s the best dancer on the Mets,” Aidan said, speaking live from SportsNet New York broadcast booth Sept. 26.

The 9-year-old fan was given the opportunity to be the SportsNet New York’s kidcaster during the bottom of the 3rd inning of the Atlanta Braves versus New York Mets game Sept. 26. The SNY Kidcaster Contest asks young Mets fans to submit a video of them broadcasting a home run made by Nimmo in a previous Mets game. Only a few days after Aidan mailed his submission, he was asked to join the station’s veteran broadcasters Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling in their booth. The professionals said they were surprised how knowledgeable young Aidan was about the team.

“I did not know that,” Hernandez said, when he heard Aidan comment on Rosario’s dancing capability.

Aidan was paying attention to the players warming up for their turn at bat.

“Aidan’s been a fan since birth, whether he’s known it or not.”

— Roie Eddelson

“I actually saw him dancing over there before, and he was dancing when he was getting ready,” the young Mets fan said.

Aidan and his father, Brian, spent several hours in the days before the broadcast researching the team so they could be prepared. While Aidan knew those at bat would be at the bottom of the lineup, he didn’t know who exactly would be standing at the plate.

“Aidan’s been a fan since birth, whether he’s known it or not,” Aidan’s mother, Roie, said. “To be 9 years old and accomplish that is just something we’ll never forget.”

Everyone in the Eddelson family is a Mets fan, especially with his parents being born in Queens and Brooklyn. That enthusiasm has bled down into Aidan and his 6-year-old brother, Jack.

Aidan, who attends Mount Pleasant Elementary school, watched his first Mets game during the 2015 World Series when the Mets faced the Cincinnati Reds. He has been a dedicated fan ever since, saying he and the rest of his family have done their best to never miss a game.

Despite the family’s lifelong commitment to the team, it will never stop them from complaining about how they perform each season.

“They always do well in the beginning 30 games in the season, and then they downfall for some reason,” Aidan said. “They were first this year and last year, and then they just went down.”

“[The Mets] always do well in the beginning 30 games in the season, and then they downfall for some reason.”

— Aidan Eddelson

Nonetheless, Aidan’s mother said she and her family will always believe in their home team. Her husband confirmed it.

“This year, they ended on a high note,” Aidan’s father said.

Aidan said he plays little league hockey, soccer and baseball, where his favorite position is catcher. If he had a choice of career, it would either be a major league sports player or sports broadcaster. Therefore, it was really heartening for Aidan to hear, at the end of the broadcast, the veteran game pundits had only encouraging words for the young superfan.

“You did a fantastic job, you were so well prepared, and you had great notes,” Cohen said. “Ronny might become the general manager, Keith might retire, so there might be a spot in the booth before we know it.”

This post has been amended to reflect the correct spelling of young Eddelson.

Baseball is missing out on an entertainment gold mine. In most games, the third base coach is practically invisible, wandering in and out of a rectangular box that’s missing its back line.

Indeed, most of the time, the coach isn’t anywhere near lines that were drawn specifically for him. If those lines aren’t necessary, why draw them? And, if they are where the coach is supposed to be, then shouldn’t umpires enforce that rule? What kind of lessons are we teaching our children if the coaches can’t stay between the lines?

Are we telling them it’s OK to leave the lines? Or, maybe, we cleverly imagine that allowing them to stray from their limitations encourages children to exceed whatever limits others put on them — as happens in this space on occasion, but I digress.

No, you see, the third base coach spends an entire game performing: He appears to be simply scratching an itch on his nose, tapping his cap and motioning for sunscreen as he rubs his hand down his arm. Yet those gestures are a series of complicated signals that indicate what the batter and the runners should do before, during or after the next pitch.

Why does every team need to be so restricted and why does the coach’s facial expression always have to look like he’s trying to memorize a phone number written on a blackboard 90 feet away?

We are a creative culture, the endless Hollywood sequels to movies that shouldn’t have been made in the first place notwithstanding. Why can’t we encourage the third base coach to add entertainment and perhaps levity to a sport in which the home audience routinely watches players and managers shove sunflower seeds into their mouth and then expectorate them onto the field of dreams?

I have a few suggestions to bring more eyeballs to the third base coach and, perhaps, away from teams that long ago gave up hopes of a playoff berth. A coach could:

• Attempt to bring his hands together behind his back. Sal, as we’ll call him, could turn his back to the hitter, put one hand behind his back from below while reaching down from above with the other.

• Break into a one-person kick line. Who doesn’t love a great Broadway number? Sal could kick out his leg and raise his hat at the same time.

• Combine line dances. Sal could start with a Macarena, add a second of the wobble and then conclude with the hustle.

• Attempt to start a lawn mower. The coach could bend down as if he were fixing something on the ground and then pull straight up several times, hoping the engine catches.

• Wash his hands. This could serve two purposes: It could signal to the hitter to clean up his swing or mechanics; and it could remind everyone watching about the benefits of good hygiene, all the spitting and rubbing dirt between their fingers notwithstanding.

• Put a leash on an imaginary dog and stroll in place.

• And, finally, Sal could walk around his small box, tapping imaginary heads and then mouth the word “goose” and run back to his original spot.

These are just a few of the ways the forgotten man on the field might spruce up the game a bit. Maybe, if he caused the other team to focus on him enough, he might give his team an edge, allowing a runner on first to break for second as an appreciative pitcher became distracted by a coach’s antics. And, even if it didn’t work, it might bring a few smiles to fans during the dog days of summer.

Participants in MLB’s Home Run Derby listen to the national anthem. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

It’s all about family.

Sure, there was plenty of high-powered baseball last week when I had the privilege of attending my first Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., July 17, with my son, but, ultimately, it’s clear between and outside the lines that the players fill their energy reserves with the support of their families.

Los Angeles Dodger Manny Machado signs autographs. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

After our first trip to FanFest — a gathering of dedicated baseball aficionados — we wandered over to a nearby burger joint where a man named Frank suggested we go to the Marriott across the street because that was where all the players were staying. We wolfed down the last of our burgers and found a lobby filled with kids of all ages — including adults who enjoy sharing the excitement of the game with their own children — waiting for a glimpse of their favorite stars.

Within a half-hour of our arrival, superstars wandered in the front lobby, where they had about a 50-foot walk between a huge revolving door and a private, security-protected hallway opposite a sign forbidding pictures or autographs.

Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, whose muscular 6-foot, 5-inch frame made him appear to be the picture of a professional athlete, carried his young daughter in one arm and luggage in another, making it impossible for autograph seekers to ask him to sign their baseballs, programs or notebooks.

Other athletes followed the same pattern, carrying their young children or holding their hands, making it impossible for fans to demand a signature or even to interrupt their family moments.

On the other side of the spotlight, many of the eager fans weren’t too far from their parents, who urged them on and wished them well.

“Who’d you get?” one fan asked her son as he raced back to her, holding a ball carefully by the seams to avoid smudging the valuable ink. “Manny Machado!” he beamed, referring to the former Orioles superstar who the Los Angeles Dodgers would soon trade five players to acquire a day later.

“Good for you,” she clapped and cheered, pleased with her son’s success.

Cameras follow Yankee star Aaron Judge’s every move. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

On another trip to FanFest, I watched parents clad entirely in the ubiquitous red uniform of the Washington Nationals. A father with an open jersey flapping at his sides led his two small children, whose jerseys were buttoned up to their clavicles, across the enormous space toward the Major League Baseball store.

At the Home Run Derby July 16, the event that precedes the game in which a few sluggers essentially see how far they can hit baseballs, Washington fan favorite Bryce Harper didn’t disappoint the rabid Nationals fans, beating a determined and electrifying Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs. After his victory, Harper thanked the fans and his pitcher who, as it turned out, was his father Ron.

At the game itself, we were fortunate to sit fairly near the families of the American League all-stars. Patty and Wayne Judge, parents of burgeoning Yankee-great Aaron Judge, watched their 26-year-old son’s every move, filming him during his introduction and cheering as he circled the bases after his home run against starting pitcher Max Scherzer of the Nationals. Many in the Judge entourage, like those from other families, proudly wore jerseys with the names and number of their all-star on their backs.

Rays’ pitcher Blake Snell’s family filled up almost an entire row of seats, with his name and his number “4” draped across their backs.

When Detroit Tigers pitcher Joe Jiménez entered the game from the bullpen, his family stood proudly, with each of them filming the jog from the left field fence.

Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor electrified his family with a hit that almost made it out of the stadium on a record-setting night for home runs. As he jogged back to the dugout to get his glove, his family stood and applauded his effort, as his broad, patented smile crossed his face.

Yankee pitchers Aroldis Chapman and Luis Severino play catch. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

In the top of the eighth, Lindor’s replacement at shortstop, the Mariners’ Jean Segura crushed a three-run homer, triggering a big celebration from his extended family, who high-fived each other and who received congratulations from the nearby Lindor family.

Segura was an unexpected hero, who was the last player named to join the American League team, beating out Yankee Giancarlo Stanton, among others.

Yes, we witnessed all-stars with the ability to hit balls over 400 feet. Ultimately, though, we had the chance to see families share a weekend that mirrored similar scenes around the world, albeit on a smaller scale. Watching all these families come together to celebrate their baseball achievements made me feel like I was at a high-profile Little League game. Parents, siblings and friends stand on the sidelines, supporting their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters as they revel in the opportunity of the next at-bat.

The result? The American League triumphed over the National League, 8-6, in the 10th inning of an unforgettable all-star game.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande slides into third. Photo from SBU Athletics

By Desirée Keegan

Nick Grande was home for a few weeks during winter break, and while his mother joked he could get a job during his extended stay, the shortstop had a different idea.

“No, mom,” he said in response. “As soon as the new year starts that’s it, you won’t see me again. I’ll be at Stony Brook every day.”

The Stony Brook University sophomore was a standout for Smithtown West’s baseball team, helping the Bulls claim two league titles during the three years he was team captain. He was named second team All-State as a senior after posting a .529 batting average, which also earned him the Suffolk County Silver Slugger Award. He also captained the league title-winning basketball team in his senior season. But while there are always adjustments to be made making the jump from high school to Division I college ball, his freshman season didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande turns two. Photo from SBU Athletics

As a freshman at SBU, he played in 35 games, collecting multiple hits in seven of those contests. He notched his first collegiate hit and home run in the same game at Presbyterian College, and went 3-for-3 as the designated hitter in a win against Sacred Heart University. But he wanted to become more consistent, so he got up every morning during winter break at 8 a.m. to work on improving his game, and he did.

Grande batted .377 for the 32-25 Seawolves this past season. His 78 hits were the sixth most in a single season in Stony Brook history; his 32 stolen bases are the second most in a season only behind MLB-draftee Travis Jankowski’s 36 in 2012; he had 22 multi-hit games, including eight in a row; and reached base safely a team-best 22 straight games. Grande batted .418 in America East conference play and had five of his six home runs in conference.

“There’s a reason why people are talented,” said Nick Grande Sr., who was the head baseball coach and now principal at Island Trees High School. He recalled bringing his son to the field every day after school since he was 3 years old. “It’s all about the time they put into perfecting their craft … his desire, his determination. He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

Although the elder Grande said his son has a fear of failure, he doesn’t show it. Grande Jr. said he’s picked up a philosophy of positivity along the way, from his time spent on the diamond at the age of 7 with his dad at the end of the day from his father’s Island Trees coaching job, to his new head coach Matt Senk, and everyone else he met along the way.

“You have to go into a game expecting to be successful — that’s the only way it’s going to work out of you, I think,” he said. “Even if you’re cold or having a tough day you have to step into the box knowing that you’re going to get a hit. I tried to have a positive mindset out there.”

“He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

— Nick Grande Sr.

The starting shortstop earned back-to-back America East Player of the Week honors March 27 and April 3. He went 6-for-11 with a homer and three RBIs in a home series against the University of Massachusetts Lowell and went 6-for-6 with three doubles and a pair of RBIs in a win against Binghamton University. One of the nation’s top base stealers in 2018, he swiped three in a game twice. He went on to be named second-team ABCA/Rawlings Northeast All-Region, an America East spring scholar-athlete, a first-team Google Cloud Academic All-American and a first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

“It was nice to be able to produce and contribute to help the team win games,” Grande said, adding it helped having role models like recent MLB draftees pitcher Aaron Pinto and infielder Bobby Honeyman and Coram outfielder Andruw Gazzola. “Being in a great lineup where top to bottom guys are having great at-bats didn’t hurt either.”

Despite his strong showing on the offensive side of the ball, Grande said he has a defense-first mentality.

“He’d rather catch a ground ball than get a base hit, and when he makes an error I hear about it for days,” Grande’s father said, laughing. “That’s because we’ve hit thousands of ground balls. He doesn’t stop, he doesn’t quit, and that’s because he wants to be as close to perfect as you can be.”

Senk said though that Grande wanted to be more of a consistent hitter to balance his game. He said he pointed out to his shortstop he had an inside-out swing that didn’t allow him to hit the ball as hard as he could, so he started pulling the ball more. Grande also practiced using his backhand to get to more ground balls.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande digs into the box. Photo from SBU Athletics

“He has such a tremendous work ethic — that was never an issue,” the SBU coach said. “He worked hardest in the toughest part of the game. He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way. I knew it when we were playing the defending national champs, University of Florida, and he hit a home run off first-round draft pick Brady Singer. From there his season took off. I think that was because of his dedication, athleticism and intelligence.”

But there’s more to the ballplayer than his devotion and talent. Smithtown West head coach Al Nucci said what he does in the classroom, and the kind of teammate he is makes him exemplary in every which way.

“He stood out from the day he started,” Nucci said of seeing Grande during a Booster Club practice as a youngster. “As crazy as it sounds as a young boy he had an incredible work ethic, he loved the game, he was always looking to improve, he smiled, he was super polite — as a 6-year-old on 60-foot diamond completely and totally standing out from his peers.”

He was pulled up to varsity as an eighth-grader to get more of a challenge, and ended up starting the second half of the season and into the playoffs after an injury sidelined one of his teammates. His coach joked that he might be the only Bulls player in history to hit a home run in his first at-bat and sacrifice bunt his next, showing his team-first mentality.

“He’s probably a better person and a better student than he is an athlete,” Nucci said. “He’s the first on the field and the last one off it, and he backs up his leadership skills and his work ethic with results on the field. And Nick didn’t need to speak — he spoke with his mitt, with his arm, with his bat, with his baseball intellect and with his attitude. Nick is the type of kid that takes a little something from everyone and uses it to his advantage. I hope my son ends up like Nick one day, I’ll tell you that.”

“He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way.”

— Matt Senk

Grande’s father said although it can be nerve-racking, it’s been nice to take off the coaching uniform and sit back and watch his son play.

“Your stomach is turning, you’re a nervous wreck, your hands are sweating, but there’s not a better place in the world to be than watching your kids play sports,” he said. “The sport to me always had such a positive effect on my life, and from an early age he seemed to be following in the same footsteps, that the game was going to be meaningful for him, too.”

Baseball is a game of highs and lows, and it’s those who turn the lows into highs that tend to become successful. Nick Grande is the epitome of that according to those who know him best.

“When you get a text from your son that says, ‘Dad, I was just chosen as first-team All-American,’ after you pick yourself up off the floor, you take a deep breath and say, ‘Wow, all of his hard work, all of his dedication really paid off for him,’” Grande Sr. said. “People that work hard deserve to be rewarded in life, and in his case he has.”

His life makes for a fascinating story even if the current spy movie is mediocre. “The Catcher Was a Spy,” tells of Morris “Moe” Berg, baseball player, and his remarkable intelligence and exploits, especially during World War II. Born in Harlem, not far from the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants, Berg began playing baseball at age 7. He was to be called “the brainiest guy in baseball,” and Casey Stengel, a baseball player and manager who was something of an eccentric himself, referred to him as “the strangest man ever to play baseball.”

Berg’s story, captured in Nicholas Dawidoff’s 1994 book of similar title, is also the story of the times in America in which he lived. Born in 1902, he begged to go to school at age 3 1/2. The third and youngest child of a pharmacist and a homemaker, Berg graduated from high school at 16, then Princeton magna cum laude in 1923, as an outstanding scholar-athlete playing baseball all along the way. He also grew up as an outsider, marginalized there because of modest finances and as a Jew at a time of deep bigotry. He majored in modern languages and spoke some half-a-dozen fluently, including eventually Japanese.

Upon graduation, Berg was signed to a contract by the Brooklyn Robins, soon to become the Brooklyn Dodgers and he seemed to be just so-so at bat but a good clutch hitter with a strong and accurate arm in the infield.

After that first season, Berg traveled to Paris, where he enrolled at the Sorbonne and read several newspapers each day. By January 1924, Berg was not thinking of going back to spring training to develop himself as a hitter but rather found the idea of travel irresistible and went on to tour Switzerland and Italy. When he finally did return to the United States, he was optioned off to the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association minor league. He was to play for four American League teams throughout his baseball career, primarily as a catcher, ending with the Boston Red Sox as player and then coach in 1941. “Good field, no hit,” was how Dodgers scout Mike González, characterized him. Berg distinguished himself for his putouts stealing percentage, double plays by a catcher and assists by a catcher.

However, throughout his baseball life, which he so clearly loved, he was a true Renaissance man. In between seasons, and sometimes missing the first couple of months of the new season, he studied law at Columbia University, passing the bar in 1929 and finally earning his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1930. Interestingly, he was sent with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and a handful of other all-stars to play exhibition games with the Japanese in 1934 — Berg’s second trip there. Although certainly not of their star caliber, he spoke the language and was probably included on the squad for that reason.

While in Tokyo, he donned a kimono and pretended to bring flowers to the American ambassador’s daughter, who was a patient in the Tokyo hospital. He went up to the roof instead, and from the top of one of the tallest buildings he used his 16-mm Bell & Howell camera that he had concealed in the folds of his garb to film the city and harbor. He never did visit the daughter but he did provide American intelligence with rare and invaluable footage later on. He supposedly did this in anticipation of the war that he was sure, from his various readings and Far East travel, was coming. He went on to join the Office of Strategic Services, later the CIA; was parachuted into occupied Yugoslavia evaluating which resistance groups should get U.S. support — he chose Tito’s group; and became involved in the frenzied effort to determine if the German scientist Werner Heisenberg was close to developing the atomic bomb with orders to assassinate him if so — Berg decided not. Otherwise, he was of immense value to the U.S. as he moved throughout Europe in his dangerous and exciting life.

The former ballplayer turned down the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor to the war effort, during his lifetime but the medal was awarded posthumously. In American history he is a mysterious footnote.

Gavin Buda hurls a pitch during the Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge all-star baseball game. File photo by Bill Landon

Gavin Buda’s first word was “ball.”

“True story,” the Harborfields dual-sport standout athlete said. “I’ve been playing sports as far back as I can remember.”

Harborfields wide receiver Gavin Buda waits for the ball to drop along the sideline during the Empire Challenge football game. File photo by Bill Landon

Baseball was his first love, he said, signing up for every team he could play on. He played for the varsity team from freshman through senior year of high school, also competing on high-level travel teams and tournaments in other states.

“It just seemed my path was set to play baseball in college,” he said.

But during his sophomore year, he decided to try out for the junior varsity football team with some of his friends. The team went undefeated, and the wide receiver was hooked.

“There was a feeling I got playing football that I never felt playing baseball,” he said. “This bond that is created between teammates that only happens in football. The knowing that you have each other’s backs — that feeling made me think if I work hard enough, this is the sport I’d like to play beyond high school.”

He never gave up on either sport, spending three days training for football and the other three for baseball. He said winters were intense, spending time indoors at batting cages while also gearing up for the fall football season, working with trainers like Jay Fulco, Mike Bouranis, Mike Feldman, James Brady and Jay Fiedler.

Buda this month became the first Suffolk County athlete to play in both the Rawlings Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge and Empire Challenge football game, with Wantagh’s Ryan Sliwak achieved the feat in 2011. Buda said he had no idea the history he’d made at the time he was selected.

Gavin Buda makes a catch between two Rocky Point football players during Harborfields’ homecoming spoiling win. File photo by Bill Landon

“From a young age you could tell the kid was super athletic — he stood out among his peers, and from there, he put in a ton of hard work to really hone that and continue to stay ahead of the pack,” said Harborfields baseball coach Casey Sturm, who coached Buda since he was in seventh grade. “He was a special player, and what really stood out at the end of his tenure wasn’t even so much what he did at the plate but his defense in the outfield and ability to pitch were huge.”

In Suffolk County’s 5-4 loss to Nassau June 8 at St. Joseph’s College, Buda tossed a baseball for what might be the last time. The pitcher and outfielder took over on the mound in the bottom of the fifth and retired the side in order.

“To end my high school baseball career being selected to play alongside players that were drafted to the MLB or heading off to colleges like Vanderbilt to play baseball is just awesome,” Buda said, although he joked if he let up a homerun he might not have been as happy. “To get on the mound and face those guys one last time was a great way to go out, and luckily, I did pretty good.”

A week later, he’d put down his glove and bat to strap on some football equipment.

In the Empire Challenge game, he made a 30-yard reception during a play he wasn’t even slated to be a part of. Knowing Northport quarterback Ryan Walsh, he said during the call in the huddle he told Walsh he could beat out the kid that was guarding him deep. Walsh trusted him, and Buda delivered. A step ahead of the defender, he said there was no way he was letting the ball drop.

Gavin Buda rips the ball deep into the outfield during the Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge. File photo by Bill Landon

His two-year head coach Rocco Colucci said for him personally the moment was fitting. Being a teacher at Northport he’d coached Walsh on the junior varsity level.

“This is why I coach football,” he said. “To see these guys grow and excel.”

He said too it was a privilege to watch Buda excel the way he did.

“Right off the bat I knew he was going to be a playmaker,” Colucci said. “His hard work showed. He was always looking to get better. He was very coachable — anything I told him to do, he’d do it. And because of that, [when other teams] put their best defensive players on him,  he’d still make the catch. He likes that type of best-on-best competitiveness in football, and there’s a lot of areas in football where he excels.”

Buda will be taking his talents to Hobart and William Smith Colleges to join the football team, but said he’ll never forget where he came from.

“Harborfields is a great school, but for some reason we are always under the radar in athletics — it’s a smaller school so I guess that’s why,” he said, adding that while other top athletes chose St. Anthony’s or Chaminade, he never questioned becoming a Tornado. “There were some great players that came through Harborfields before me, and there’ll be more after me. I just hope that I did my part to help put Harborfields sports on the map. The experience these last two weeks of playing in both all-star games is something I will carry with me forever.”

This version was updated June 20 at 12:43 a.m. to indicate that Gavin Buda is the first Suffolk County athlete to be chosen for both all-star games, not Long Island. 

Harborfields' Gavin Buda only athlete to be chosen to play in both Blue Chip prospects baseball (pitcher) and football (wide receiver) games

By Bill Landon

A two-run eighth inning helped Nassau County tie the game and earn the would-be go-ahead run over Suffolk in a 5-4 Blue Chip Prospect Grand Slam Challenge win June 8 at St. Joseph’s College.

With the game tied 3-3, Garden City’s Mike Handal’s RBI gave Nassau the lead, and a Suffolk error brought in the eventual game-winning run in the 14th annual game sponsored by Rawlings, proceeds from which benefit Cohen Children’s Northwell Health Physician Partners Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics center in New Hyde Park.

St. John the Baptist catcher Logan O’Hoppe hit the ball deep to right, which scored Rocky Point pitcher and outfielder Joe Grillo from second, but Locust Valley’s Thomas Eletto forced a groundout with two runners on  to earn the save.

“It was a lot of fun playing tonight with all these kids,” said Ward Melville second baseman Logan Doran, who committed to Division I George Washington University. “I’m excited about competitive baseball. I’m ready to go.”

Doran proved that when he cleanly fielded a ball rocketed in the dirt, and passed it to short stop Kyle Johnson who turned a double play with bases loaded to retire the side and keep Suffolk up 1-0 in the second.

Johnson, who will continue his baseball career with Stony Brook University, said he’s been in awe of all the effort and commitment that goes into putting together the event for senior elites.

“This game’s awesome — Blue Chip; Jim Clark, who put this together years ago — it shows how [talented] Long Island is,” the soon-to-be Newfield grad said. “You’ve seen the guys this year that got drafted and a lot of those guys played in this game, so it’s an honor to be out here.”

Suffolk made it a two-run lead in the top of the third when West Islip outfielder Jake Guercio crossed home plate for the second time. And Suffolk’s hitting didn’t stop there.

Johnson stole second just ahead of a tag with Brentwood’s Justin Aviles in the batter’s box, but Aviles’ grounder toward third was thrown home in time to get Doran for the second out. Grillo smacked the ball deep to right next to load the bases, but Suffolk couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity.

Plainview JFK’s Ryan Saltzman hit a sacrifice fly to put Nassau on the board in the bottom of the inning, and Plainedge’s Jason Bottari did the same to make it a new game.

With no outs in the fourth, Newfield pitcher Bobby Vath hit into a double play, but Sayville’s Jake Russo raced home from third in time to help Suffolk retake the lead. The team looked to build on its lead in the top of the fifth when Mount Sinai third baseman George Rainer took four consecutive pitches at the plate to draw a walk, but two straight strikeouts ended the inning.

“It’s a great feeling to be playing with the best players on Long Island — I really enjoyed it,” said Rainer, who signed a letter of intent to play at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “It was a great day to end my varsity baseball career. I had a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see what college has in store.”

Harborfields pitcher Gavin Buda, the only athlete chosen to play in both Blue Chip Prospects games — the Grand Slam Challenge and Empire Challenge football game — took over on the mound in the bottom of the fifth and retired the side in order.

“It’s a huge honor to be chosen [for both],” said the Hobart and William Smith Colleges-bound wide receiver. “When you look at a school like Harborfields we’re always underrated and under-the-radar, so to be nominated to play in these games and represent this school is amazing.”

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